First Nations mother holding a gift bag with her child who has dwarfism

A video of nine-year-old Quaden’s “hysterical” breakdown after being bullied for his dwarfism went viral last year. The supportive responses his mother received were overwhelming and the conversations she has kick-started about discrimination and intimidation have been essential to helping others understand the importance of “calling out” bullying. 

Last February, Aboriginal mother Yarraka Bayles posted a heart-wrenching video on Facebook of her then nine-year-old son Quaden – who has dwarfism – crying hysterically because he had been bullied at school… yet again.

In a moment of distress, Yarraka uploaded the footage she had taken so other people could see the devastating impact bullying was having on her son.

Quaden, who lives with achondroplasia, had said he wanted to take his own life and, for his mum, the agony of watching her son endure the torment of regular bullying was heartbreaking and overwhelming.

She wanted to do something so others could understand his pain – the video she shared with the world went viral, receiving more than 25 million views.

“This is his normal”

Physically Quaden has low muscle tone and short limbs. He’s in constant pain due to early onset arthritis, inflammation, respiratory issues and headaches because of the fluid on his brain.

“This is his normal and he doesn't know what it feels like to live without pain.”

Quaden began having surgeries when he was three – he’s had 11 in total.

“He's at the age now where he just wants to be tall. He's been studying limb lengthening surgeries and it is so painful. I'm praying that when he's old enough to make his own decisions, he'll be comfortable within himself and say, ‘I don't want that surgery anymore.’

“But, at the moment he's a 10-year-old boy. He wants to play football and be normal, whatever that is.”

Indigenous remedies

After being by Quaden’s side as he underwent surgery after surgery, Yarraka decided to return home on to country and work with the traditional healers of her community - Ngangkari.

“You're talking about hundreds and thousands of years of track record with traditional Aboriginal healing methods. It's a much more holistic approach – they take in to account the mental, physical and spiritual needs of the individual.”

Quaden has used the traditional medicine plant Gumbi Gumbi and oils such as goanna and emu to relieve muscle pain.

“And we're growing our bush food garden here that we incorporate into everyday living.”

The video that went viral

Yarraka says that by the time she posted the video which brought global attention to Quaden’s plight, she had already been trying to find a way to deal with bullying by talking to teachers, the principal and other parents on several occasions.

On the day she filmed Quaden, his principal had called to let him know the Brisbane Bullets would be at school –Quaden had been at home and was keen to go and see the famous team.

When Yarraka arrived to pick him up at the end of the day, she saw him in a line to get his singlet and shoes signed… and she saw a group of girls giggling and patting him on the head in reference to his height.

“He's literally half the size of most of the students in his class so it is very noticeable that he’s different and he's very self-conscious of that.

“For a mother to sit and watch that… it was very difficult because I felt that pain and humiliation.”

After the signing, Quaden “ran straight to the car and just broke down”.

Yarraka had always believed she could ignore the bullying. “But ignoring it doesn't solve it. We need to start dealing with it. I said, ‘I want everyone to see and feel this. So hopefully this is what's gonna help make things change.’”

Talking about bullying

After Yarraka shared the video, discussions opened up about bullying, discrimination, intimidation, harassment and abuse as people felt empowered to talk.

“It's also been able to shed a light on suicide, mental health, and issues that Indigenous people face.

“When we speak up about things, we take the power back and that's what we like to encourage people to do because we know what it feels like to suffer in silence.”

Yarraka says that since speaking up herself, her own family has begun receiving the services and support they need as well.

Indigenous support

The support Yarraka has received from the Australian Indigenous community and indigenous communities around the world has been “amazing”.

“I've often described Quaden’s condition as like a double-edged sword. He's an Aboriginal boy with a disability trying to navigate through his world.”

One of the most memorable shows of support came from Quaden’s sporting heroes, the Indigenous All-Stars, who invited him to lead them onto the field for a game on the Gold Coast against the Maori All Stars.

“They treated him like the little brother or the nephew that he is.”

Yarraka says the players have continued to check in with Quaden with “empathy and compassion in their hearts”.

Calling out bullying

Yarraka is encouraging children and those within the education sector to “call out bullying for what it is”.

“We need action. Now. We need things that are in place so that our children can feel safe.”

She has been working on Quaden’s Law – legislation to protect students with disability from bullying – and details are set to include specifics on how bullying is reported and providing help to those displaying bullying behaviours.

Raising Quaden

Raising Quaden has made Yarraka “appreciative”. “I definitely don't take things for granted. I encourage Quaden to be bold every day, wake up, be happy, be strong, … as hard as it is.

“I say, ‘You’ve been born with this blessing. It's not a curse to be born with a difference. That is your point of difference. And everyone will remember you for that.’

‘Being different is deadly’.

Yarraka hopes that by raising awareness, as well as more emotionally resilient children, future generations will be able to thrive in a world that is more “loving, accepting and inclusive”.

WANT TO HEAR MORE FROM YARRAKA? LISTEN TO HER PODCAST HERE.   

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT WHAT FEROS CARE IS DOING TO SMASH STEREOTYPES AROUND DISABILITY AND WORK TOWARDS A MORE INCLUSIVE AND ACCESSIBLE WORLD HERE.  

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